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December 6, 2012

5 ingredients for a smooth holiday

(Continued)

Another strategy: Steal decorating ideas from Pinterest and Instagram, which are full of low-cost inspiration to fill your table with cheer.

Manage family expectations

The demand for time and the pull of nostalgia during the holidays can make for a stressful month. Focus some attention on managing priorities. "We should make sure our expectations are realistic and not strive for something that nobody can produce," says Mary Alvord, a Maryland psychologist.

Figure out what seasonal activities or functions are essential to your family, not just what you might be doing because you always have. "Every family should think about what the holidays mean to them," says Lynn Bufka, also a psychologist in Maryland. "Do we need to bake 15 kinds of cookies?"

For some, the religious aspects of the season have always been the most important. But there are so many others, including passing along cherished culinary traditions, gathering with neighbors, volunteering or writing holiday letters. "Sometimes we get wrapped up in doing everything we could do and lose sight of the reasons we're doing it in the first place," Bufka says.

Call a family meeting this week. Ask your children what they have enjoyed the most from Christmases past. "You might be surprised what they might tell you," Bufka says. If this is the first holiday for couples, they can develop their own traditions. Any family that has suffered a major loss in the previous year, such as death or divorce, should discuss ways to cope with the change during a time when everyone else is celebrating, Alvord says.

To reduce stress, write down all the traditional holiday activities that your family enjoys and rank them in terms of importance. Then make a plan for how to divide up the shopping, cooking and cleaning so everyone shares in the work, and one person doesn't have to make the holidays happen single-handedly. (This is often the mom.) Everyone will sleep better knowing the goodies that lie ahead and what needs to be done. Share the chores and share the joy.

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